I’ll start with a little bit of an apology. Last week’s journal mentioned a macro form of the topic. And then I didn’t really do anything with it. These journals are very much done as stream of consciousness, so I’m amazed I’ve written this many without something like that happening more often. That’s fine though, because at least with this one there wasn’t much more to it.
In addition to worrying about action taking place during and around dialogue, you should also be watching for action taking place overall in the story. As I mentioned last week, the amount of action will vary based on the type of story. Just like The amount is going to be very much up to your individual taste, but the only thing worse than a scene written to be performed by sock puppets is an entire novel written to be performed by sock puppets. Once aware of it, you can find it in any book you read.
Ok, so today I’m going to talk about an area of writing that the technical rules allow (I’ve seen it in many published works), but you really shouldn’t do. And now I hear you saying, “Wow, Chaaya, you keep saying that you don’t like to make hard rules for people.” You’re right. I don’t. And I can think of a few literary reasons you might make exceptions to both, but usually when I see these happening, it’s definitely done without thought.
Let’s start with a definition: point of view. Point of view refers to the placement of visual and audio cues within a scene, usually in reference to a specific character. There are three basic points of view used. First person refers to a specific narrator who is actually present in the story. Second person (I don’t think that term is used at all anymore) refers to a specific narrator that is verifying or explaining the information given. It’s not used in narrative literature as it’s more instructive than informative. Think of it like reading the instructions on a tax form. You do this and then you do that. It’s what I’m writing in now. Third person used to be the most common form of narrative. It’s a story told from the view of a narrator who is not present in the story and who never refers to herself. All my novels so far are from that point of view.
Ok, so that’s three different types of point of view. There are a lot more specifics you can add to them, but there’s no point for what I’m talking about today. What I want to discuss today is staying consistent in your point of view. First person is easy. If you change point of view, you have to do something to signal the reader or it’s complete and total confusion. If who “I” refers to changes (and it often does), it can’t make the change mid-sentence or mid paragraph. I don’t need to tell you that. The problem I see comes up because authors assume that because they’re writing in third person, they don’t have to worry about specific point of view. They’re wrong.
Before I get into why you want to avoid doing this, let me first make sure you understand how point of view works in third person if it’s present. Whenever you have a scene in your story, you should know where your virtual camera is placed. You’ll establish that in two ways: what is seen and what is thought. Let’s take a look at a set of scenes in The Wolf’s Pawn. They all happen simultaneously and the all end in the exact same place and time. We start by watching what’s happening to Simon. We see him working on modifying a punch card and we follow his action, hear his thoughts, and see what he sees. We know that he disguised himself as Mauro and is trying to get into a building. Just as he’s entering, he runs straight into Mauro and Filo. The scene ends there.
Next we go to Mauro. We see what he sees and hear what he’s thinking as he gets ready to leave his hotel. We watch through his job interview and as he tours his new workplace. This scene ends when he goes to leave and comes face to face with Simon in disguise.
The final change in point of view takes us to Filo. We see the job interview and tour from his point of view. We get insight into someone who’ll eventually be an important character. The scene ends with him standing next Mauro as the door opens and they see Simon disguised as Mauro on the other side.
Two of these three scenes were almost lost before the story was officially sent off to the publisher. I wrote them trying to decide which point of view I wanted to take. In the end, I decided that they all provided information and background that couldn’t be consolidated into one scene. The publisher made some minor changes to them and now they stand. There’s a definite break in each telling of the story (it’s a gear—a little gear placed as a break in the text.) Each section very clearly shows that the story is being viewed from a specific character. If that character doesn’t see it, the reader doesn’t see it. If that character doesn’t notice it, the reader doesn’t notice it. (Don’t get me started on third person omniscient. That’s for another journal.) We only hear the thoughts of the specific character.
Why so strict on this? Like using passive voice (which I’ll talk about next week), jumping from character to character within a scene stands a good chance of confusing the reader. In addition, it’s a way to pull your reader from feeling like she is actually watching what’s happening. Movies can get away with it because the viewer is the one established as the, well, the viewer—the one seeing the action. It’s not the same in writing and I see a lot of authors, new and established, forget that.
Thanks for being here for me. I appreciate the feedback and support I get from my small audience. Feel free to share links to my journals. I try to write about helpful things devoid of the authoritarian insistence and author-y angst so prevalent in things like this. As I mentioned in the title, you can break from what I’m talking about. My intent is never to exclude a possible literary device. I more want you to think about how you do things and make you conscious of the parts of writing that go beyond just putting words on a page. I’m reminded of the Pixar movie, Ratatouille. Just as “anyone can cook,” I believe that anyone can write. Talent is a wonderful thing, but even a prodigy pianist must first have a piano.
See you next week. As always, let me know if you have a topic you want to see covered either here or through the publisher on Parler (@RPGames).